Comments on Redesign of MMSD High Schools

Kudos to the district for stopping the rush to the middle Rainwater and his assistants have been promoting for East. However, the changes that were pushed onto West should also be backed off while the district has a long overdue, community-wide conversation about what it desires its high schools to provide all students. And this time, let’s have that discussion backed with empirical studies. Even if the community agrees with Rainwater (and some if not all of the BOE) that closing the minority achievement gap takes priority over other educational goals, let’s have a frank discussion as to how that is best achieved.

13 thoughts on “Comments on Redesign of MMSD High Schools”

  1. I add my support too.
    I envision a school system pre-K through 12 that raises the academic performance of every student at every level. It can be so.

  2. For those of you who were not watching or missed parts of the meeting, I suggest that you catch the video when it comes on-line and/or hits Channel 10 broadcast. There are some items that are not obvious in the video, so, for what its worth:
    The superintendent wrote the memo to the principals without arm-twisting or other intervention by the board.
    The Monday night presentation and discussion was on the agenda with the superintendent’s active support.
    Ruth Robarts and I both raised the issue of “what about West?” during the discussion and I believe that there will follow up to figure out what comes next.

  3. Thanks for the update, Lucy.
    Why, do you suppose, Mr Rainwater reversed course on East after what he supported (or even instigated) at West?
    Possible explanations: a much better organized group of parents and students at East; active East advocate/parents on the BOE; and/or evidence this one-room schoolhouse model isn’t working well in general or at West in particular.
    Thank you and Ruth for asking after West. If the superintendent is sincere in seeking a community-wide discussion on the high school curriculum, the deep changes at West need to be reversed during this two-year review and discussion. It is simply not fair to the 7th, 8th and 9th grade families whose children will be subjected to this while the rest of the district decides what path to follow.

  4. Just to be clear – this does not just affect East and West. LaFollette was facing the possible loss of the block system and the board heard from many parents who were concerned about the rumors and process there.
    Rather than speculating about why the shift it might be more fruitful to focus on how to make the redesign process work in meaningful and productive ways.

  5. It is highly relevant to question why now and not when West was being overhauled. It goes to integrity of the process. If the administration is sincere, the ill-considered changes to West’s curriculum will be undone while this two-year study is undertaken. That will be proof that the redesign process will be genuinely productive. Otherwise, why should those of us in the West community bother to participate?

  6. I absolutely appreciate the need to place the highest priority and the greatest amount of energy on problem solving and looking forward; however, I also think it’s important to appreciate how this feels to the West community. We met with so much silence, so little response from anyone in a position of authority. It was demoralizing. Absolutely demoralizing. I think it would be a mistake to ignore or deny the damage that has been done to relationships between the West community and it’s principal, the Assistant Superintendent, the former BOE president, the Chair of the BOE Performance and Achievement Committee, and others. As well, let’s not forget that the English 10 proposal and method of implementation practically destroyed the West English Department. As a result of the way things have been going down at West for the past several years, the levels of mistrust, anger and disengagement have increased. That is a problem under any circumstances, but especially given the huge emphasis all of the high school plans place on quality human relationships and partnership.
    In my line of work (psychotherapy), we see it as inevitable that we will make mistakes, that we will disappoint and anger our clients, however unintentionally. The wisdom comes in acepting that inevitability … and in understanding that there is tremendous healing power available, depending on how we decide to handle our mistakes. A simple, heartfelt “I’m sorry” is certainly a good start. A genuine show of understanding as to how our actions/inactions have affected the other person is a great follow-up. Repairing the damage done and then changing our behavior means we both grow.
    Blank slates have their place, to be sure; but there’s also the wisdom of “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.”

  7. Besides, as a wise person once said:
    “We get to talk about anything we want, […] It’s called freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech.”

  8. My comments were not in any way intended to dismiss or overlook the very real concerns of West parents. I repeat. Watch the video and see who raised the issue of West first.
    At the same time, it is hard to appreciate a framework that implies that East was somehow privileged in the process. The fact is that there is a different board this year, with different concerns and sensibilities than was the case last year or the year before. And just as the issue of the status of the district’s equity policy was put on the table and voted on, the issues of high school redesign were put on the public agenda due to board recognition of the importance of the subject for ALL of the high schools.
    There was no one restricting the right of West parents to speak on Monday night. I cannot speak to why people did not use the opportunity to express their concerns either as speakers or as registrant non-speakers. I do think that it would be more productive to focus on what people want to have happen at West and how that might be accomplished.
    Matt is right, it is freedom of inquiry and speech. But to take cheap shots at board members who are supportive of West concerns does not feel terribly helpful to the conversation.

  9. I’m not sure where you get that folks are taking cheap shots at board members, Lucy. If any shots were taken, it was at Art Rainwater for supporting deep changes at West and then backing off in the face of formidable and admirable opposition from East families, which includes, I would dare to suggest, several BOE members.

  10. There’s no question that the board is radically different today than during the one size fit’s all West English 9 / 10 implementation and “this is the direction we’re going” – Art Rainwater statements nearly one year ago (Performance and Achievement meeting where Adam Gamoran discussed mandatory grouping among other topics):
    I hope the Board and Administration address the changes at West, particularly in light of Bruce King’s report and the planned two year high school review.

  11. Lucy, nothing anyone has said is at all aimed at you! My Lord, not only were you not on the BOE most of last year, you have been the BOE spark that’s gotten it all going! You raised these issues in your campaign; you have responded meaningfully to community concerns; you understand these issues thoroughly; and you made promises that you have absolutely kept!!! We cannot express enough how much we appreciate your leadership on these issues.
    You ask what West parents want. In a nutshell, we want West to be more like the other high schools with regard to advanced course offerings — and beginning in 9th grade. We want honors/advanced/TAG classes in English and Social Studies in 9th and 10th grade, like East and LaFollette have in both grades and Memorial has in 10th grade. We want additional sections of Accelerated Biology in order to meet demand, again, like East and LaFollette have. And we want 17 — not 9 — AP courses to be offered, available even to sophomores, like they have at Memorial. And if the SLC model is to blame for us not having all of that, then we want our SLC’s to be like Memorial’s neighborhoods — that is, to be social and organizational groupings only and NOT structures that impinge on either curriculum or scheduling. The SLC grant has ended; we are no longer bound by its terms; it can no longer be used as an excuse.
    Breaking news: The Administration has been in dialogue with West and West has agreed to work with TAG staff to come up with a way for advanced West students to skip over English 9 and/or English 10. This change will make West a little more like Memorial, where advanced 9th graders are allowed to go right into English 10, albeit, English 10 Honors.
    O.K., so that’s what we want. Now, how might it be accomplished? You tell us. I know that people are busy writing to you, Art and the other BOE members. Frankly, we were all worn down last year by the non-responsiveness of our West administration and the assistant administration downtown. A form of learned helplessness and hopelessness. But tell us, what else should we do? I wonder, would you be willing to facilitate a meeting between West parents and Mr. Holmes and Ms. Nash? That might help.

  12. What is also absolutely necessary is continuing to have 4 board members, a majority, who get the role of the school board in curriculum policy and who know Madison deserves a top notch academic school system now and in the future for all our kids and for our community and will do something about it. Without a majority of 4 votes, we go back to what West parents and others over the years have been experiencing and a direction the community does not want the schools to go nor will support in needed future referenda.

  13. Make that a meeting with Holmes, Nash and Rainwater, of course. (Sorry, it was late last night when I posted.)
    Let’s also push to make the District take those dropout data from the second half of the 1990’s more seriously, as well as the work of Donna Ford, who advocates — as do we — NOT getting rid of rigorous, “high end” classes, but stepping up early and ongoing efforts to prepare ALL kinds of students to be in them and find success. Otherwise, we will end up like the 25 school districts in the greater St. Louis area, where they closed the gap by lowering all achievement, just white student achievement more than black.
    These gap-closing efforts absolutely must start a lot earlier than high school. I hesitate to say high school is too late, but I know many others would and do.
    Link to dropout data:
    Link to one of Donna Ford’s many articles on equity and excellence:
    Link to Donna’s Vanderbilt website:

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